India has said there is no logic behind announcing a fresh work programme at the ongoing WTO Ministerial Conference (MC12) on the long-pending issue of a permanent solution for public stockholding programmes of developing nations, as it was now time for a decision.

Commerce & Industry Minister Piyush Goyal, who is representing India at the meet, also made a case for protecting the livelihood of artisanal fishers and the need for keeping non-trade-related subjects like climate change and gender out of WTO negotiations.

“Is it a point to restart the negotiations from scratch and bringing it at par with all the different subjects which are at different stages of negotiations as sought to be finalised today ... I still think we all need to reflect on what was decided should be pursued and included this time or whether it should once again be agreed for a work programme and taking us back to square one, eight years or nine years after the initial agreement,” Goyal said at the G-33 alliance of developing countries’ meet in Geneva on Sunday, the first day of the four-day WTO MC 12.

Fisheries subsidies

The minister, in his opening statement, defended the subsidies given to the artisanal fishers in the country. “Fishing by my country’s traditional fishermen and women is to address hunger, poverty, food and nutrition insecurity, which is largely sustenance fishing. Their right to life and livelihood cannot be curtailed in any manner,” he said. On the contrary, those nations responsible for depleted fish-stock should assume responsibility, having exploited the oceans for far too long by giving subsidies, the minister added.

India strongly believes the WTO should not negotiate rules on non-trade-related subjects like climate change, gender, etc. which legitimately fall within the domain of other inter-governmental organisations, the minister added. His comment on fisheries subsidies is important as the draft agreement floated recently at the WTO on curbing such subsidies fall short of the demands made by India for protecting subsidies given to its artisanal fishers.

Referring to the WTO Director General’s comments on work on a permanent solution, Goyal said: “It was unfortunate that she referred to a decision that has been made not once, not twice but thrice, as a mere iteration.” The draft declaration on agriculture floated by the Committee on Agriculture chair recently also talks about continuation of negotiations and work towards agreeing and adopting a permanent solution to the PSH issue by MC13, instead of suggesting a solution.

In the absence of a permanent solution to PSH, developing countries are at the risk of being penalised for violation of WTO rules if their support (in the form of MSP and input subsidies) for a particular agriculture commodity exceeds 10 per cent of the value of total produce. Although the peace clause negotiated by India at the Bali Ministerial Conference protects it against legal action in case its subsidies exceed 10 per cent, there are a number of stringent conditions attached to it that developing countries may find difficult to adhere to.

The proposal

The permanent solution proposal circulated by the G-33, ACP and African Group, proposes that domestic support provided by a developing country for public stockholding programmes for food security purposes shall be deemed to be compliant with the required articles of the AoA and not subject to reduction commitments.

Where public stockholding programmes for food security purposes of a developing country include programmes under which stocks of foodstuffs are acquired and released at administered prices, then the AMS shall be calculated based on the actual quantity of foodstuffs (as opposed to the entire eligible production) acquired at administered prices.

The external reference price, instead of being pegged to 1986-88 prices, should either be the three-year average price based on the preceding five-year period excluding the highest and the lowest entry for that product or adjusted for excessive inflation as per the methodology, the proposal said.

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